Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Graffiti arrests no small crime bust

Express Staff Writer

Law enforcement always deserves special gratitude for its 24/7 work, most of it unseen and unfelt by residents. However, arrests of several young people now charged with vandalizing private property with graffiti ranks as an important action not yet fully appreciated.

If these suspects are responsible as accused, the joint police task force from Sun Valley, Ketchum and Hailey has struck boldly to stop a crime wave that's far from ho-hum pranks.

This graffiti was not urban art of gifted young idle hands. The graffiti was intended to tag property with symbols of a gang's presence. The crude numbers and cryptic alphabetics were more than mere blemishes on private property. They also represented defiance of a community's civility and an attempt by night crawlers to remind residents that brazen scofflaws dared to be caught.

Nothing speaks louder about the lost quality of life in a community than symbols of self-respect.

If streets are littered with trash casually tossed by litterbugs, if residential yards are unkempt and overflowing with junk, if public buildings are in disrepair, if graffiti mars walls and buildings throughout business districts—these are signs of people and towns that don't care.

When the arrests were announced, a few residents dismissed them as a waste of police time involving trifling misbehavior.

This is proverbial ostrich-head-in-the-sand thinking.

Anyone who disrespects private property enough to vandalize it will soon tire of such "trifling" misbehavior and look for more challenging activities under the cover of darkness. Urban police will tell you that many graffiti taggers graduate to auto theft, burglary of businesses and eventually to violence while "protecting" graffiti territory from other gangs.

Banishing graffiti now, and continuing to prevent it, will avoid a heap of community headaches. Unsightly, spray-painted messages would be just the beginning. If they were allowed to flourish, we'd soon find competing gangs trying to outdo each other with graffiti taunts of territorial reign, with ever-spreading efforts to take over more walls and buildings with symbols of dominance. No property would be safe.

Some years ago in Phoenix, I volunteered along with others to help clean up graffiti in rundown neighborhoods as a way of restoring resident pride. It was dreadful work trying to remove unwanted gang art. However, it also was a depressing reminder that people of uncivil habits were willing to inflict indecent and damaging symbols on property.

The Wood River Valley has made a head start on avoiding that experience by attacking the first signs of insolent hooliganism.

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